LD879 WM Dump Expansion Signed Into Law
LD 879 was signed into law on Friday, March 30th. People are now organizing to support candidates this next election season who take a stance to stop Maine from becoming the dumping ground for out of state waste and to develop policy to counter the continuous Waste-industry backed legislation targeting Maine.
Staff Writer Morning Sentinel
NORRIDGEWOCK — State legislators have voted to allow the last remaining commercial landfill in Maine to expand.
The bill, passed by the House on Monday and the Senate on Tuesday, allows Waste Management’s Crossroads Landfill to pursue expanding onto 175 to 200 contiguous acres. The landfill accepts waste from about 80 communities.
L.D. 879, sponsored by House Majority Leader Philip Curtis, R-Madison, has been in the works since 2009 and was postponed twice. It still needs approval by Gov. Paul LePage to become law.
The expansion has been opposed by some Norridgewock residents and environmentalists, but Jeff McGown, district manager for Waste Management, said it’s important to remember that the bill does not give the company authority to grow immediately. It must still buy the land and undergo a lengthy permitting process.
“It just means the company will now have the opportunity to purchase land without all of the risk and seek the town and state’s approval for expansion when the time comes,” McGown said.
At its current size, the landfill is expected to run out of room in about June 2022. The way the law is currently written, landfills cannot expand onto land they didn’t own before 1989.
Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, was one of four senators to vote against the bill on Tuesday. He said he voted no because of overwhelming opposition from his constituents in Somerset County.
“We all generate waste, and it has to go somewhere, so I understand both sides of the issue, and I have visited the facility, and I was impressed with the way it’s managed,” he said. But “because of the strong request that I had from my constituents, I decided to vote the way I did.”
Gloria Frederick was one of those constituents. She lives next to Crossroads and said she and her husband have endured noise, smells and sometimes garbage on their property.
She won’t move because “my husband was born and brought up in this house, and when you believe in something you do not run from it, and you stand for what you believe in,” she said.
Because the current law was designed to limit the creation of new commercial landfills that accept out-of-state trash, the anticipated change to it has generated debate about whether Waste Management’s expansion will make Maine a dumping ground for other states.
“I think they’re taking away the only control there was to limit the amount of out-of-state waste coming into the state of Maine,” Frederick said.
Crossroads accepts about 20 percent of its waste from out of state and is mandated to accept no more than 35 percent, McGown said. In any expansion, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has the discretion to decide how much out-of-state waste the landfill can accept.
During the last few years, supporters of the bill have said that dozens of communities and businesses, including Bath Iron Works and Madison’s Backyard Farms, could have to spend more money to send their trash elsewhere if Crossroads were to close.
They have said it is also possible that a competing state-owned landfill in Old Town could raise prices since there would be no remaining competition.
Those opposed to the change have said residents living near the landfill could possibly be harmed by leaching material, bad smells or if there’s an unforeseeable accident.
“Maine is pretty good at recycling and could be much better if we insisted that nothing irreducible could be land-filled,” Marnie Bottesch, of Norridgewock, wrote in a prepared statement.
Hillary Lister, of Athens, fought against the bill and said people will now ask the governor to veto it. They also plan to continue to make the matter a political one and will support future candidates for the Legislature that say no to an expansion.
She questioned whether the state can enforce the amount of out-of-state waste Crossroads accepts, especially when considering what she considers the conflicting role of the Interstate Commerce Commission, a federal body that regulates modes of transportation and commerce between states.
McGown responded that Crossroads hasn’t had to deal with the issue because it accepts less out-of-state waste than its limit.
“We have limited the amount of out-of-state waste we’ve taken, been selective, and fallen well within the expectations of our permit,” he said.
For the company to get an expansion license, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection must determine whether the proposed facility provides a substantial public benefit, according to the bill. The commissioner would examine why the facility wants to expand, whether there is a need for it, and whether the expansion is consistent with the state waste management and recycling plan.
Part of the process would include a public meeting in town where residents can express their views for the commissioner’s consideration, Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said. The bill was originally written to make the public meeting optional, but the town asked that it be required.
Norridgewock selectmen have given their approval to amendments that put in more protections for the town, but they have not taken a stance on the bill as a whole, Flewelling said.
If it applies to expand, Waste Management will have to show that it complies with the state’s waste hierarchy, which requires it to reduce its amount of trash, reuse items and recycle them.
McGown said the landfill is currently meeting guidelines through its programs for single-stream recycling, wood recycling and tire recycling. It takes some material to a local farm to be composted.
Crossroads also has a gas-to-energy plant that taps decomposing waste, harnesses the resulting methane gas and turns it into electrical power.
Now, if the bill is approved by LePage, the company can begin buying property, McGown said. The company is considering offers to buy six parcels of land, he said.
The vote in the Senate was 28-4. In addition to Whittemore, Democrats John Patrick, representing Oxford County and Jay in Franklin County; Troy Jackson, representing Aroostook County; and Joseph Brannigan, representing parts of Westbrook and Portland, voted against the bill.
Erin Rhoda — 612-2368